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Snap judgments: Patriots 34, Bills 3

12.26.10 at 4:02 pm ET
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The Patriots have clinched the AFC East title and home-field advantage for the entire AFC playoffs with a 34-3 win over the Bills in Buffalo. Tom Brady – the no-doubt MVP of the 2010 season– threw three TD passes — two to Rob Gronkowski — and broke Bernie Kosar’s NFL record for most pass attempts without an interception. The defense also stepped up, creating six turnovers (which the Patriots converted into 21 points).

Now at 13-2 on the season, the Patriots will host the Dolphins in the regular-season finale. It’ll be interesting to see how much Brady and the rest of the starters play in what will be a meaningless game from a postseason perspective.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Green-Ellis and Woodhead: The Patriots ran for a then season-best 200 yards on the ground in a Week 3 win over the Bills, and they were clearly committed to continuing that dominance over Buffalo on Sunday. The undrafted wonder duo of Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis combined for 197 yards on 32 carries (138 of the yards coming in the first half, which was really the only 30 minutes that counted in this rout). Woodhead had a 29-yard TD rush in the first quarter (with terrific blocking from Gronkowski and Matt Light) Green-Ellis finished with 78 yards on 13 carries. The O-Line was outstanding throughout the contest, with Logan Mankins as a standout (kudos to Alge Crumpler for some devastating blocks as well as his first TD catch of the season). In total, 220 yards rushing for the Patriots, a new season best.

Rob Gronkowski: A return home to remember for the rookie tight end, as Gronkowski caught a pair of TD passes. He now has nine on the season, which matches the great Ben Coates for single-season honors for the position. Gronkowski also made a superb block to spring Woodhead on his TD run and a nice back-shoulder catch on a third-and-six on New England’s second TD drive.

Creating (and avoiding) turnovers: At one point in the middle of the third quarter both teams were tied with 286 total yards. But the Patriots had a 31-3 lead in large part due to a +5 turnover edge. The first turnover came thanks to the work of three linebackers, as Rob Ninkovich forced pressure on Ryan Fitzpatrick, forcing him out of the pocket. Gary Guyton came in and delivered a hit on Fitzpatrick to cause the fumble, and Jerod Mayo (who was all over the field in both run and pass coverage) recovered the ball. Patrick Chung and Jarrad Page each recorded an interception (both were converted into TDs) and Mayo and Kyle Arrington combined to force a fumble of C.J. Spiller in the third quarter, which was recovered by Dane Fletcher. Eric Moore also recovered a fumble from Fitzpatrick, but the Pats were unable to turn that into points. Fletcher also had a garbage-time pick for the Patriots, who are now a remarkable +27 for the season on turnovers, easily the best total in the NFL (seven games in a row without a turnover).

WHAT WENT WRONG

Run Defense: Bill Belichick was effusive in his praise of Fred Jackson in the week leading up to the game, and Jackson showed why early on, rushing for 50 yards on the Bills’ opening drive. Chan Gailey (never to be confused with a guy you would ever want as your team’s head coach) made the curious (at best) decision to abandon the running game after that drive, putting the game in the hands of Ryan Fitzpatrick in lousy conditions. Jackson only carried the ball 13 times in the game, but finished with 81 yards.

Wes Welker: Three more drops for Welker on Sunday, which gives him a total of 13 on the season. He had back-to-back drops in the red zone at the end of the first half that stalled a promising drive (the Pats were forced to settle for a field goal).

Kevin Harlan: Wow. Just wow. I’ll never complain about Jim Nantz or Joe Buck again. OK, maybe Buck. But Harlan was brutal, confusing Woodhead and Welker numerous times (it happens), referring to Page as “Victor Page” (this isn’t UConn-Georgetown in 1996, Kev) and calling for a flag on every hard hit from a player from either team (if you lead with your shoulder and hit a guy in the back it’s hard to throw a flag. Just a hint.) Also he kept mentioning that a win meant an AFC East title (true) but failed to recognize that it also meant home-field (which is only, oh, about 600 times more important). Throw in a blown call on the Dane Fletcher pick in the end zone (“did he or didn’t he … let’s wait and see) and we now know why Harlan is buried on the CBS depth chart.

Another NFL first for Tom Brady

12.26.10 at 3:13 pm ET
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Tom Brady set a new NFL mark for passes without an interception and then found Rob Gronkowski for a touchdown on the next pass as the Patriots quarterback continued his remarkable season Sunday in Buffalo.

Brady threw his 309th pass without being intercepted on an incompletion to Gronkowski at the Bills goal line on the Patriots’ second drive of the second half, breaking the previous record held by Cleveland’s Bernie Kosar, spanning the 1990-91 seasons.

Brady has now thrown 24 TD passes since last being picked off by Baltimore on Oct. 17. One pass after setting the record, Gronkowski caught his second eight-yard TD catch. Brady also hit Alge Crumpler from four yards for a TD in the second-quarter.

“What’s my reaction? I’m glad I’m not throwing interceptions,” Brady said. “I think our team’s done a really good job of not turning the ball over this year, in general. All of the guys who’ve handled it this year are doing a good job of taking care of it. I’m very fortunate, believe me, to have plenty of plays that definitely could’ve gone to [opponent]. It’s a good trend for us to be on. Hopefully, it continues.”

Brady finished 15-of-27 for 140 yards and three touchdowns and ran his streak to 319 passes without throwing an interception, 11 better than Kosar’s old mark.

Read More: Bernie Kosar, Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots, nfl

Halftime analysis: Patriots 24, Bills 3

12.26.10 at 2:31 pm ET
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There are two quarters in the books in Buffalo, and the Patriots hold a 24-3 lead on the Bills.

It’€™s been a good day to be a running back: Danny Woodhead (8 carries, 72 yards, one touchdown) and BenJarvus Green Ellis (10 carries, 66 yards) have pretty much done whatever they’€™ve wanted throughout the first half, thanks in large part to some absolutely crushing blocks up front from the New England offensive line. (In particular, Alge Crumpler was absolutely devastating.) The Bills haven’€™t been too shabby when it comes to toting the rock either, as Fred Jackson has eight carries for 61 yards.

Both teams showed an extraordinary ability to run the football early on, but the only real difference is that the Patriots stayed committed to the run. Meanwhile, the Bills got off to a great start on the ground ‘€” their first six plays were running plays ‘€” but strayed from it as the first half continued. (In truth, they have had to start throwing the ball in hopes of staying in the game.) Buffalo got a 26-yard field goal from Rian Lindell in the first quarter for a 3-0 lead, but New England parlayed a strong ground attack to touchdowns on its second and third series, with Woodhead delivering a 29-yard run to give the Patriots a 7-3 lead in the first quarter and an eight-yard pass from quarterback Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski to make it 14-3 early in the second. After a 34-yard field goal from Shayne Graham, New England closed out the first half scoring with a 4-yard touchdown strike from Brady to Crumpler to make it 24-3.

The only time the offense really did stall was toward the end of the first half when the Patriots reached the Buffalo 16-yard line, but back-to-back drops from Wes Welker left New England with a 34-yard field goal from Graham to make it 17-3 with 3:57 left in the first half.

The New England defense has been soft against the run, but they have come away with some stout work in the red zone. On Buffalo’€™s first drive, the Bills were able to get down to the Patriots’€™ 8-yard line, but Buffalo was forced to settle for a field goal. Later in the first quarter with the Patriots holding a 7-3 lead, the Bills got to the New England 17, but the Patriots were able to force their first turnover of the afternoon when linebacker Gary Guyton sacked Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and forced a fumble. Jerod Mayo recovered the football, and New England would cash that in with its second TD of the afternoon to make it 14-3. The Patriots would come away with another turnover late in the first half when safety Patrick Chung picked off Fitzpatrick with just over two minutes left in the second quarter.

When it comes to the Patriots’€™ pass defense, New England has done an excellent job getting after Fitzpatrick. They got the strip sack from Guyton, a pair of absolutely devastating hits by inside linebacker Jerod Mayo on Buffalo’€™s Stevie Johnson and David Nelson, and the pick from Chung late in the second half.

Read More: Bills, halftime analysis, Patriots,

Vikings-Eagles postponed to Tuesday night

12.26.10 at 12:40 pm ET
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With an impending snow storm about to pound the northeast, the NFL moved the Vikings-Eagles game from Sunday night to Tuesday night. The game was originally scheduled as the prime time Sunday night game on NBC but was moved because of a winter storm warning in effect for Philadelphia until Monday at 1 p.m. ET.

“Due to public safety concerns and uncertainty of snow emergency in Philadelphia tonight, the Vikings-Eagles game has been postponed until Tuesday night,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello reported on his twitter page.

It’s the third straight week the Vikings have had to make a change in their originally scheduled game. Their roof collapsed on Dec. 12 and their Dec. 20 game was played at the University of Minnesota.

According to the NFL, the game between the Vikings and Eagles on Tuesday night will be the 20th Tuesday game in league history. The last time there was Tuesday football was on Oct. 1, 1946 between the New York Giants and the Boston Yanks.

Read More: minnesota vikings, nfl, Philadelphia Eagles,

Pats-Bills inactives: Thomas Clayton, Taylor Price added to 6 ruled out Saturday

12.26.10 at 11:42 am ET
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In addition to the six players ruled out on Saturday night, running back Thomas Clayton and receiver Taylor Price were placed on the inactive list for Sunday’s game in Orchard Park.

Saturday night, the Patriots downgraded six to out, including OL Dan Connolly, LB Jermaine Cunningham, DL Brandon Deaderick, TE Aaron Hernandez, DL Myron Pryor and DL Mike Wright.

DL Ron Brace, after suffering a head injury in the Bears game and missing last week against the Packers, returns to action. With Hernandez out because of a sore hip, running back Fred Taylor is active after being a healthy scratch last Sunday.

For the Bills, the inactive list includes RB Jehuu Caulcrick, OL Geoff Hangartner, OL Ed Wang, DT Kellen Heard, OL Colin Brown, TE Mike Caussin, DT John McCargo.

Inactive analysis for Patriots

12.26.10 at 11:40 am ET
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The following players were ruled inactive for Sunday’€™s game against the Bills: offensive lineman Dan Connolly; linebacker Jermaine Cunningham; tight end Aaron Hernandez; wide receiver Taylor Price; running back Thomas Clayton; and defensive linemen Myron Pryor, Mike Wright and Brandon Deaderick.

The Patriots made most of these moves on Saturday ‘€” Connolly (concussion), Cunningham (calf), Hernandez (hip), Pryor (back), Wright (concussion) and Deaderick (shoulder) were all on the injury report late in the week, and were all ruled out on Saturday night. As for Clayton and Price, the two have been inactive for the bulk of the season because of personnel issues.

The three missing defensive linemen mean that it will likely be a long afternoon again for veterans Gerard Warren and Vince Wilfork, who went almost wire-to-wire last week against the Packers because of all the injuries along the defensive line and will almost certainly do the same today because of depth issues. (They should get plenty of help from second-year lineman Ron Brace, who will also be active this week.) At linebacker, look for lots of Rob Ninkovich and maybe even some Dane Fletcher on the outside because there’€™s no Cunningham.

On the offensive side of the ball, tight end Rob Gronkowski will be utilized more in the passing game because Hernandez is sidelined. As for the offensive line, look for Ryan Wendell to take most of the snaps that Connolly would get, while Quinn Ojinnaka moves up on the depth chart among the interior linemen.

Read More: inactive analysis, Patriots,

Pats-Bills: Ready to rumble

12.26.10 at 11:20 am ET
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The Patriots can clinch their eighth AFC East Division title in their last 10 seasons with a win today in Orchard Park.

But far more importantly, the Patriots can assure themselves of a bye week of rest and ensure the AFC road to Super Bowl XLV rolls through Foxboro with a 15th straight win over the Bills as they would lock up the No. 1 seed.

The weather doesn’t figure to be nearly the issue that it is today in Philadelphia where the NFL is giving serious consideration of postponing the game game because of a forecast of over 20 inches of snow with 35 MPH winds.

It’ll be typically cold in Western New York for the last Sunday in December where a game time temperature of 21 is expected with wind chills around 10 degrees. Wind could be a factor with winds of up to 20 MPH expected. There will be flurries throughout the afternoon and the possibility of a snow shower.

The domination of the Bills by the Patriots has been well documented. The last time the Patriots were beaten by Buffalo, New England was still trying to deal with the release of popular safety Lawyer Milloy before the 2003 season opener. That week, the Patriots were blown out by the Bills, 31-0, that Sunday, Sept. 7, 2003.

Consider:

- The Red Sox were still 14 months away from ending their 86-year World Series title drought.

- The Patriots – at the time – had just a 46-40-1 advantage in their all-time series. It now stands at 60-40-1.

- The 14-game streak is the third-longest winning streak by one team over another in NFL history.

- Speaking of history Tom Brady needs to throw just three passes without an interception to pass Bart Starr and move into second on the all-time list of passes without being picked off. As a matter of fact, it’s likely the Patriots quarterback could have the chance of breaking Bernie Kosar‘s all-time record of 308 passes without an interception. Brady enters with 292 passes since last being intercepted on Oct. 17 against Baltimore.

Read More: AFC East, Bart Starr, Bernie Kosar, Buffalo Bills
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